Photography Course: ISO

Hi friends!!!  I love getting to hang out with you each week!!  I thought before we begin our next course, we should have a little heart to heart!  How’s it going!!?  I had a couple sweet notes letting me know that aperture was a bit simpler than shutter speed!  {In other words, shutter speed was kicking you in the bum a bit}.  I totally get it!  The result for aperture is a bit more obvious {clear cut} than the results from shutter speed at this point.  Don’t you think!?  Shutter Speed’s concept is understandable, but the application is tough, especially when you don’t have control over all the variables.  Like when you’re photographing a dripping faucet and your water won’t drip slow enough for you.  OR. Like when the weather is not cooperating and you can’t get a bit of sunshine to brighten up your temporary, self-proclaimed photography studio in the kitchen!  I totally get it!!!   We’ll put it all together though…don’t be hard on yourself at this point!  It really will work for you!

Photography Course: ISO
Just to let you know ahead of time, you may run into a bit of lighting issues with ISO on it’s own as well.  I think it’ll be okay, but depending on your natural light and the type of lens you have, don’t put too high of expectations on yourself yet!  Pinky Promise!?!  Don’t put too much worry into the results, focus on the concept for now!  When we are controlling all three components of the exposure triangle we’ll have lots more say in making sure our camera receives the perfect amount of light.  And of course, with the right amount of light, we’ll start having some perfectly bright photographs!!!  I know, I can hardly wait for that either!  But, for now, let’s keep learning how to set our camera — one step at a time!!!  We’re getting there!   Your invested time is going to be well worth it!!!  I’m super excited for both of us!!!
Here’s a bit of review to start off with…if you haven’t spent time on each of these first courses, I totally recommend you start with course 1 and give yourself a week to work on each course!  A few of you have asked about the price…it’s totally FREE!  Just have fun learning!  My hubby is a photographer and I’ve always been great at composition, but have resisted taking the time to learn the manual.  {Do you blame me?  Manuals are incredibly overwhelming and the print is so small everything gets way jumbled}.  I think my hubby is just so excited that I’m learning FINALLY, he is totally like, whatever, go ahead and share my secrets with your closest friends if that keeps you focused on learning!  He’s totally right — sharing with you has totally made me committed to learning!  I’m a home school mommy, so teaching is definitely my comfort zone!  Guess what, all this teaching is helping me learn!  I’m totally LOVING being able to shoot on manual!!!  I still have lots of learning ahead, but I’m so proud!
In response to those that can totally not believe this is free, if you ever want to buy a camera {or anything, for that matter} from Amazon, you’ll get the same great price Amazon always offers, but if you go through one of my links to get there {on the right sidebar}, we’ll get a bit of a referral credit, which would be way fun, because pennies can combine to make a lot, right!  Seriously friends, that’s not why I’m sharing these lessons on photography!   A friend told me to add the links so I did.  Photography Friday is truly ALL ABOUT learning the camera without a bunch of extra big words and without lots of mechanical explanations of why, not making the big bucks!  LOL!  Hence, the free forum.
My hope is that mommies will be able to capture cute, sweet pics of their babies AND bloggers will learn to take clear, impressive pics of their projects!!!  So keep coming back to learn little tidbits and keep adding your photography {even when it’s not where you want it to be} to my ongoing ‘Reader’s Photography’ linky party.  This is found under my header, in the tab titled Photography.  I’ll leave it up and keep checking for new posts!  I always show Stud {my hubby}, and sometimes he has a simple tip based on what he sees!  When he does, I’ll definitely leave you a comment with that information…I’ll keep doing that, okay!


Tonight we’re going to talk about the third and final part of The Exposure Triangle!  As you recall from our first two-weeks, exposure is essentially the heartbeat of photography!  I’m going to give you a refresher on the basics of each element.  And then I’ll focus on ISO.   And of course, application is the best way to make sense of what you’ve read, so I’ll give you a little assignment and there will be a linky party for you to share your AWESOME results!!!  If you’ve worked your way through the aperture and shutter speed elements, it’s downhill from here!  No worries if your pictures aren’t perfect at this point.  Believe it or not, when we’re shooting in total manual, we’ll have more control over how much light enters our cameras and the results will be way better!  You totally are going to be FANTASTIC photographers before long!!!  I promise to leave out as many technical words as possible!!  Like last time, read through this lesson and try to let it soak in!  By the end of the night, and a week’s worth of application, we’ll be ready to put it all together next week!  Watch out world because you and I are about to totally ROCK!  Photography Course: ISO.
No worries..just read the three points below…we’ll make more sense of it all in a minute!
  1. Aperture.  It is what regulates how much light is let into your camera!  Basically, think of it as curtains on a window that control how much light comes into your room.
  2. Shutter Speed.  This controls the amount of time that the shutter is open when you’re taking a picture.  Basically, think of it as holding onto your blind’s wand and allowing the blinds to be open for only a certain amount of time.  Like when you’re struggling to awake your child in the morning and she won’t get up so you briefly open the blind and then close it again to let her see the light of day.  The shutter speed is how long you leave the blind open.
  3. ISO.  This is your camera’s sensitivity to light.  The strength of light that rushes into a room in your house is very similar to the way your camera interacts with ISO. 

Putting Aperture and Shutter Speed in the back of our minds for now, let’s figure out ISO.   This can get complicated, but I’m going to give you a simple overview and we can go from there.  Just a little bit of perspective, people spend years getting degrees in photography.  For every explanation there are a dozen exceptions and such.  For the most part, let’s go with the streamline concept and over time we can grow our knowledge in the specifics.  Is that alright with you!?!?

Let’s start with an illustration…

  1. If you had a west facing kitchen window, the light pouring in would obviously be bright! {In this situation, you’d want to set your ISO to low.  Otherwise, your picture may end up being white-ish or totally washed out…I know that look all too well…it’s my winter look!}
  2. If you’re still at your house with a west facing kitchen window, but now you’ve added a sheer because your Great Aunt is visiting and she has an aversion to direct sunlight!  It’s now bright in the kitchen, but not intensely bright.  {In this situation, you’d want to set your ISO to a medium range so that it will help ensure enough light is entering the camera to capture a great photograph}.
  3. And as the sun begins to set and you’ve finally finished a project and you want to post it on your blog the same night…you would want to place your project again, close to the window this time, crossing your fingers that you’ll be able to capture the limited amount of light still coming through your window.  {In this situation, you’d want to set your ISO to a high range to aid your camera in streaming in as much light as possible in your photograph}.

I think the concept of ISO in general is super easy to grasp!  If you have lots of light, from either the sun shining BRIGHTLY or even if it’s overcast, but still real BRIGHT, you don’t need your ISO to aid your lighting much, so you can set your ISO low, like {100 or 200}.   If it’s totally overcast, ISO can help your camera absorb more light.  You’d want to set your ISO to a mid-range number like {400 or 800}.  And if the the sun is setting and your light is fading, ISO can enhance your lighting if you set it high.  High ISO numbers are {1000 and higher}.   That’s the basics.  I know that I promised to not bother with a lot of “in-depth explanations.”  However, should inquiring minds want to know more about the “why” here is one little EXTRA CREDIT POINT to give you a bit more scoop on ISO!

{ISO 3200}

As you are considering where to set your ISO, keep in mind that the higher the ISO, the higher the chance you will get a grainy picture.  Most of the time, you won’t be able to tell the difference in grain {or noise} when printing a 4×6 picture. However, if you end up with a once in a lifetime shot of your sweeties lovey dovey with each other, you’ll be crying your guts out if you try to get a poster-sized print and your camera had been set to a high ISO.  The higher the ISO, the grainier your photo will look.  With that said, ISO isn’t useless…we need light to take great pictures…at times it is totally useful.  {Such as at a ballet recital when your little princess is on the stage and you arrive an hour early and the only seats are on the balcony!  And then to make your situation a bit worse, there’s an announcement…”Please refrain from using flash!”  No worries…raise your ISO!  We’ll learn how to set our cameras for that senario soon enough!  Just putting a little bug in your ear!  I think it’s just like most things in life, it’s best used with moderation!

Definitely experimenting with this will help you and your camera work better as a team!  The perk to learning ISO is, it has the potential of really ENHANCING the quality of your pictures!!!  So let’s get to the application part of our tutorial!  Grab your little “bestie,” aka, your camera!  Go to your menu button and change your white balance to auto.  Now, on top of your camera find your mode dial and switch it to ‘P.’  {This is Program mode: where your camera calculates both shutter speed and aperture.}  You’ll be in charge of ISO this week, your little bestie will do the rest!  First, go to your menu and change the ISO sensitivity auto control to off.  Now, look at the back of your camera and find the button labeled ISO.  If you found that without looking back at the overview, give yourself a little pat on the back!  With your ISO button pressed, use the main command dial to move your ISO higher and lower through the settings.  Are you smiling!?!?  Easy, right!  The picture above shows that I have set my camera to {ISO 400}.  Do you know how few of dSLR owners really know where that button is, let alone know what it does!?!?  Well me neither, but I can’t imagine it’s a very high percentage!!!  We’re tip of the top, cream of the crop!!!

Once again this week, I stayed inside the comfort of my little house for my photography!  We may have to do a refreshers course on the exposure triangle during the spring and summer months so we can get some cool outdoor pics, too!  Or maybe we’ll be too beyond one mode at that point!?!?  Time will tell, right!!!  Maybe we’ll b hired by National Geographic by this spring…now wouldn’t that be AWESOME!

Okay, focus Aimee!  Back to today!  I chose to take pictures of three cute vases I found a while back at the Goodwill.  All three for $1!  And since I love decorating with yellow touches, I threw in a little yellow flower in each vase. I practiced at my table next to our west facing window and was happy with the simplicity of this application!  I think it will please you, too!  Do let me know!!!

Photography Course: ISO
 *quick little note: my camera displays {ISO 6400} as {ISO H 1.0}
Use this week to experiment and learn your camera’s ISO settings.

Can you see a difference as I changed the ISO settings on my camera!??!  My kitchen during the day has great light, so a low ISO setting is definitely ideal!  As I raised my ISO, there was an obvious grain!  You’ll find that the better your camera and lens, the higher you’ll be able to set your ISO without even being disturbed by the graininess, but each does have a threshold!  As I raised my ISO I could have made other adjustments manually to improve the picture, but there is a point where the noise will be a factor regardless.  Here’s a link for you to share your Photography Progress!!!

If you want to totally kiss up, this week you can look at your screen through the viewfinder of your camera as you’re taking a picture and notice the adjusting shutter speed and aperture!  You can also see this feature as you download your pictures if you select the info button in your iPhoto or Picasa editing software.  This will just be good exposure {LOL} for the weeks to come!  Keep practicing my sweet budding photographer friends!!!  I’m glad you joined me today and am totally excited to see your ISO pics!!!

Do your homework and then link up HERE!

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  1. Dorothy says:

    Found this on pinterest and love reading the info. Thank you for GIVING this to us. My problem is the only time I have free to try and practice it is a time I’m away and have no internet access. Is there a way to print this out so I can take it with me?

  2. Michelle says:

    I have had a DSLR (Nikon D5000) for a while now and have been using auto all along! I depend on my lens and hubby to compensate for me all the time! I found your blog from pinterest and wanted to thank you for taking the time to make a complicated subject so friendly! I have not mastered it (yet) but am hopeful! I have a tripod and remote clicker. I have a couple lenses and was wondering what kind of lenses do you use?

  3. Dana L. Pierson says:

    Thank you so much for making things so easy to understand!!! The way you show the different pictures for comparison is perfect!!!
    I will need to read through a few times to memorize it all! But it is exciting to have the info in an easy way to figure it out! Thanks so much!!!

  4. Grace says:

    THANK YOU!!! I got a Nikon Coolpix P510 camera for Christmas and really wanted to know how to REALLY use the camera. This blog is the best one, after viewing many, to actually help a newbie!! I can’t seem to figure out how to adjust my ISO, but I’m not sure that I even can on my camera. But when I look at the settings on the pics I have taken it shows what ISO was used, so I guess I have to trust my camera on that one. Thanks again!!!! Can’t wait to come back and learn more and see others photos as they are learning, too! You Rock!!

  5. Kelli says:

    I have a quick question- I am finding your instructions so easy and so fun to learn from- everything you say is exactly what I was previously feeling while trying to learn my new DSLR!! One question that I have is when you are doing all these lesson- the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO- are you using the flash on all the practice photos? I have been working on the ISO project and find that they are turning out very bright and when I go outside the photos are completely bright- and I am currently not using my flash?? Should I have my flash on??

    Thank you!


    • Hi Kelli…Thanks for your sweet note! No, I’m not using flash on any of the tutorials….flash washes pictures out and is not ideal in most situations. 🙂 If you’re finding that your pictures are too bright, you might want to adjust your settings a bit more until you find the perfect balance. Let me know if you need more explanation! XO, Aimee

    • Try lowering your ISO to as small of a number that your camera will allow and that should help you find the right balance! XO, Aimee

  6. Meritssy says:

    I came across your blog through pintrest and I feel so confident now that I’ve read your tips. Thank you so much! I totally get it now 🙂 I’m so excited. I’m a stay at home mom and I’ve always enjoyed taking pictures of my little girl. I have a Canon t3i and wanted to get your advice on a setting for an inside(of a hunger) but kinda outside scenery. My friends husband will be coming home from overseas and she wanted me to take her pictures 🙂 what are some settings depending on weather conditions? I want them to look alive and beautiful for his homecoming. Any books you would recommend? Thanks a lot.

  7. Jill says:

    Thanks for these wonderful posts! I am a happy new owner of a Nikon D5100 and am hoping to really pursue photography in the future. I have a question though…the button that should be the ISO button on my camera has a question mark by it also, and every time I press it, it gives me information on what I am doing with the camera (so when I press that button and hold, it is telling me that I could use more light)…like a “help” button, but I cannot get it to go away so that I can use the ISO button and dial. Do you know how I could fix this, or is there a different button I am missing? Thanks!!!

  8. Alicia says:

    I want to thank you for all of the training. You don’t know how much it means to me to find good, detailed, trainings that don’t cost thousands! I do have a question, do you have any tips on shooting indoors with no external flash? Is that something that is absolutely needed? Thanks!

    • Thanks for your sweet note! That’s a great topic that I guess I haven’t fully covered! I’ll try to get a tutorial for you in the next week regarding this info on my blog!!! Thanks for taking time to ask!!! XO, Aimee

  9. A... says:

    I have posted a comment onto a blog MAYBE twice…YOU ROCK! Thank you for taking the time to blog your photography lessons. I am not a complete DSLR photography illiterate however, I find your lessons enjoyable to read and quite helpful to others who can now put beginner functions together for more creative shots.

  10. Anonymous says:

    I’m so enjoying your blog and everything on it! I would love to hear more about your ideas on homeschooling. I had my first sweet baby 2 1/2 years ago and homeschooling has always been in the back of my mind so I enjoy hearing great things about it from mommas who are homeschooling. Also I’m looking to buy a camera and lenses and wondered if you could email me about it so that I can explain what I’m looking for and get the right one through your amazon account.


    • Aimee - ItsOverflowing.com says:

      Thanks so much Amy!

      What a fun treat to check my email this morning and have a sweet note from you!!! If homeschooling is something that interests you, I’m guessing there are a few others out there, too. I’ll plan on doing a little series about it Late Spring-Early Summer. Let me know if you have any specific questions between now and then! I’d love to make it as applicable and helpful as possible for you!!!

      I’d also love to help you with camera and lens selection!!! Email me what you plan on using the camera for…if you have a preference between Canon and Nikon, and any other thoughts that may weigh into your decision and we’ll help point you in a direction!! Thanks for wanting to order through our amazon account, super sweet of you Amy!!! My email is aimee{at}itsoverflowing{dot}com! Totally excited to chat with you more!!!

      XO, Aimee

  11. Aimee - ItsOverflowing.com says:

    We’ll get to specifics like these before long, but just for you sweet friend I’ll answer your question real quick, in the dark your ISO will need to be high {800ish}, aperture {f/5.6ish} and your shutter speed will need to be at least 30 {probably 80}. {have you read the shutter speed and aperture posts yet!?! – links are under the photography tab at the top} and you’ll need to stay real still when you capture this. Give it a try and let us know if that’s what you were wanting?!! XO, Aimee

  12. Rupa says:

    Aimee, I am just so thrilled to have found these photography lessons. I have no idea now how I found you but boy am I glad I did! Your lessons are so well explained with humor intertwined. It’s not a dry and boring read as it may have been if it was written by a guy 🙂 oops…I said it! Thank you so much for explaining the concepts in such an easy to understand fashion. I am now excited more than ever to buy my first ever DSLR and feel that I can use it better than in just auto mode. Thanks again so much for taking the time to do this!

    • Aimee - ItsOverflowing.com says:

      Girlfriend, you are CRACKING me up!!! Thanks for following along and I’m crossing my fingers for you that your day to have a DSLR camera is near!!! Thanks for making my night even sweeter with your cute note!!! XO, Aimee Lane

  13. Aimee - ItsOverflowing.com says:

    You are totally welcome!!! Thanks for your sweet note!!! Definitely let me know if you have any questions along the way!!! XO, Aimee

  14. Indulgencesobx says:

    Hey Aimee! Glad to see this post. I’ve been teaching my self and now only shoot manual mode. It makes such a difference… but I still have a lot to learn. I’m sure to pick up some pointers here.


  15. Wow, what an amazing post! I can definitely see the difference in ISO in your beautifully composed vase shots – when I first got my DSLR I thought ISO was a gift from heaven in letting me shoot in low light; but the graininess is a huge trade off. I think adjusting other settings to compensate is a great tip (also BETTER lenses! Ha! I am still just using the two that came with my camera – not terrible, but not super great either).

    Thanks so much for sharing all this knowledge – I’m looking forward to catching up and following along in the series!

    Take care,

  16. Mariah says:

    Thanks for the photography tips!! I found you on the Sundae Scoop link party!! I would love for you to link up to my new link party!

  17. betsy says:

    Thank you for doing this! I recently got married and my husband has a nice camera that I now get to spend time playing with. I have been starting to go through other photography websites and the manual, and keep getting caught up in all the wording or deciding to play and not understand the different things I am doing. I just went through and read all the posts so far and everything I had been doing to play makes sense now. I have a Canon EOS Rebel XS with a 18-55mm lens and 75-300mm lens. I am excited to follow along as you continue this series.

  18. Oh how I dream of one day owning a DSLR … for now, it’s a financial “impossibility” …

    But when I do I will return and follow your lessons step-by-step …

    Thanks for linking up to our Impossibilities challenge!


  19. Emily @ 52 Mantels says:

    Great lesson!! I’ve always wondered about that darn ISO. Now, I need to wait for the sun to come up so I can practice with some sunlight streaming in. I sure do wish I had some pretty white vases and yellow flowers to practice with…

    You rock!!

  20. Anonymous says:

    hi aimee!!!!
    oMG thank you very much for sharing this course with us! I was one of those who asked if this was free and i can not believe it is; this is amazing!! I am really excited and looking forward to each friday to read you 🙂
    i would like to ask you sthg but first of all let me tell you that i am from Peru (southamerica) so sorry about my english i am doing my best 🙂
    well; i had a nikon 5000 but i sold it 6 months ago beacause a friend of mine (phtographer) told me that this nikon series have a kind of “sensor problem” i will try to explain it….. He told me that this cameras i mean this model doesn’t have an auto focus sensor in the body but it does in the lens so when i want to buy another lens i would have to buy one with that sensor an it woul be more expensive. I am not sure if that’s true at all…. But i sold my camera… He recomended me to buy a nikon d7000 (this doesn’t have the “problem”) but i am not sure because even though i want a nikon; i think maybe that camera is too much for me considering that now i am learning an i am not a professional. Can you recommend me wich camera i should buy (without the problem) and if that problem is true at all…… Or maybe you think it’s ok whith tha nikon D7000….
    Thankyou veryyyyy much 🙂
    mail andreaq70@hotmail.com

  21. Shabby chic Sandy says:

    I am saving all your photography posts because I have been busy and just have been briefly going over them and I want to really study them. Thanks so much for doing them! (thank your husband too)

  22. This might be a really silly question, but I cannot find the ISO button on my camera!! I seem to only be able to change ISO through the menu. I have a Nikon D3100 and the button you show as ISO doesn’t do anything for mine!! Any ideas?

    I am done my lesson on shutter speed and am just trying to figure out ISO…. a bit trickier for me, I think.



    • Aimee - ItsOverflowing.com says:

      We have a D40 as well, and on that camera I have to use the menu option to change my ISO. It truly isn’t too much time difference once you get used to it. The D3100 is a GREAT camera Catherine!!! I’m sure your pics turn out GREAT! The key to ISO I think is to just make sure you have a ton of light! Were you able to switch from low to high!?!? I think once you see the pic resolution on your computer you’ll sorta get why keeping ISO as low as possible will give you the best quality possible. The ins and outs we’ll cover more as time goes on!!! Keep with it Catherine…it will all have a clearer picture for you before long!!! XO, Aimee

  23. Cindy Rippe says:

    Just found your tutorial through your link at tatertots and jello. Really great explanations. Can’t wait to get some time to try them out. Thanks so much for sharing.

    • Aimee - ItsOverflowing.com says:

      Thanks SO MUCH Cindy!!! I’m glad you stopped by!!! I had fun visiting your blog, too!!! So many pretties and your words are beautiful!!! XO, Aimee

  24. Aimee - ItsOverflowing.com says:

    I sent you an email with our personal recommendations for you!! Photography Store Definitely let me know if you have any other questions!!! I can’t wait to see your updated pics at the party! I reopened it {thanks for letting me know about it being closed}. Get some rest this weekend!!! XO, Aimee

  25. Miriam@BeBookBound says:

    Okay, can I just tell you that I really feel like I have a good grip on my daytime photography, but my low light STINKS! Because I am always too afraid to bump up that ISO. But I just tried a bit, and it is so much better with a little higher ISO, and some white balance adjusting. You just saved my next nighttime party 🙂 Aimee rocks!